“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation…” (Isaiah 52:7).
Advent is a Pilgrimage. Wear Comfortable Shoes.
We often say that faith is a journey. What exactly does that mean?
This summer I walked the ancient Camino de Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage route—the Portuguese version, from Porto, Portugal to Santiago de Compostela, Spain. That experience, as it does for all pilgrims, changed the way I see myself and my world. It also offered a different perspective on what we mean when we describe faith as a journey, or a pilgrimage.
This year, I’m approaching Advent as its own sort of pilgrimage. In these four weeks, we travel with the holy family as they make their way from Nazareth to the manger in Bethlehem where Jesus will be born. As we walk this way together, whether we are lay or ordained leaders, church staff or volunteers, the Camino can offer us some wisdom on how we make this journey, this walk, together.
Mind Your Feet
The pilgrim’s number one concern is the state of their feet—avoiding blisters and managing soreness, so you can complete the journey. A good pair of shoes and foot care routine is essential. You can’t afford to abuse or ignore the very things that will get you to your destination. In Advent, mind your steps, both physical and spiritual, notice the touch of your feet against the ground. Be kind, be gentle, tend to yourself, and rest along the way. One way to measure you steps in Advent is to use Antiphons for Advent, which includes a short aniphon and reflection questions for each day.
Pack Light. No, Lighter.
Before I left for the Camino I watched a documentary called Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago. In it, a wise pilgrim hostel host observed that many pilgrims pack too much for the journey because what they are really packing are their fears—fears about what might happen, what they might need, fear of the unknown, fear of not finishing. When I heard that, I started pulling extraneous items out of my backpack, and it made my journey easier. What are you carrying that you can let go of this Advent? What is unnecessarily weighing you down? How can you lighten the load? Leave some room in your pack for the gifts of the season: Hope, Peace, Joy, Love.
Go Slow. No, Slower.
One morning, when I was struggling on the Camino, I happened to have coffee with a couple of pilgrims from Portugal. They talked about the different pilgrims of various ages and abilities they had met along The Way, and they said something like this: “If you go slow enough, you’ll get there.” Up until that point, I had been thinking, “If I go far and fast enough, I’ll get there.” Many of the lessons on the Camino, and faith, are paradoxical. Go slow enough and you’ll get there. How can you slow down this Advent rather than rushing through it?
Find Good Walking Companions
On the Camino strangers from all over the world become fellow pilgrims and friends. Good walking companions can make all the difference in getting through tough days, noticing what’s around you, and helping you reflect on why you are there and what you are doing. One of the most common questions among pilgrims is, “What brings you to the Camino?” It leads to some incredible stories and sharing. Most times, it is some kind of brokenness that has led people to the Camino. They come for healing and time apart to reassemble their broken hearts and lives.
Who are your traveling companions this Advent? How can you help one another reflect on your hopes and longings you bring to this season? One trustworthy companion is AdventWord, a global Advent calendar, where people around the world join with you in reflection in prayer.
The Destination Matters
It is common wisdom that, “Its about the journey, not the destination.” On the Camino, however, the destination really matters. After all your preparation and walking, you want to make it to Santiago on your own two feet. The destination of Santiago provides a focus as the hours and miles roll by each day. You wonder: How it will feel to finally arrive? Will I see other pilgrims I’ve met along with way? Will I be changed?
Our destination this Advent is the manger in Bethlehem. That destination shapes and focuses our entire journey—and we approach with some of those same questions. I invite you to make your journey this Advent pilgrimage with the end, the incarnation, in mind.
Image: Morning on The Way to Santiago by Keith Anderson
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on December 3, 2019. It has been updated on May 16, 2023 to correct a temporary inaccuracy in authorship that arose unexpectedly. The article now lists the correct author, Keith Anderson, once again.